Felipe returns to Montreal, motivated & smiling again

MONTREAL — As Alessandro Nesta bent down to lace up his cleats, another shoe abruptly pushed his fingers aside. His laughing assailant then gently shoved him, leaving the World Cup winner out of balance.

Yes, Felipe Martins is back.

The Impact supporters were relieved that the 22-year-old was his usual self as training camp kicked off – indoors – on Monday morning. Not only did Felipe joke around with the older Italian stars he considers “brothers and best friends” as he typically does, but he also trained as if the sports hernia that ended his sparkling debut MLS season had never happened.

“I feel 150 percent,” Felipe told reporters with his characteristic giggle.

The Brazilian, a near ever-present for the Impact in 2012, underwent surgery in mid-October for the injury, which he played with for some time last season. In his absence, the Impact struggled, picking up just two points from their final three games.

Now, after rehabbing in Brazil, Felipe and his deft touch and relentless work rate look like they’re already back.

“I trained a lot in the offseason, so I’m ready for preseason,” Felipe said. “I just need to train a lot in order to come back. After three months off, it’s a bit hard, but I’m ready to come back. I look forward to playing.”

And why shouldn’t he? Not only did Felipe find a home where he went from unknown to beloved in a matter of weeks, but he has been reunited with a former coach, the recently hired Marco Schällibaum, who was manager of FC Lugano when Felipe was there.

“He likes to play fast; you guys can expect us to play very fast,” Felipe explained. “We are going to work a lot to make the team work together as we go forward and [track back]. You can expect good soccer.”

And, should injuries leave Felipe alone, some more serious work interspersed with moments of sheer playfulness.